REVIEW: Hugh Acheson's "A New Turn in the South"

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REVIEW: Hugh Acheson's "A New Turn in the South"

Postby Jenise » Thu May 31, 2012 3:17 pm

A few months back, a conversation here with Carrie about Hugh Acheson's amusing appearances as a judge on Top Chef made me wonder who that snarky guy was. I really had no idea where he came from or what his expertise was, so I googled and discovered that he was a Canadian from Ottawa who now calls Athens, Georgia home, and that his food is distinctly Southern. As he put it, "I had a lot of classic technique in my repertoire and had ultra-credible experience in great restaurants. And while my Southern friends and family had their mothers' recipes to preserve and pass down, I had a relatively blank slate to interpret Southern food my way: to take a fresh approach and turn the traditions on their heads a little bit."

This is the kind of thing I love best in the world whether it's modern art, jazz or food: take something classic, make it look new. So I ordered his book, A New Turn in the South, but by the time it came I was pretty busy and it went into the bookcase unopened.

Then Bob and I took trips to Kansas City (I know, the midwest, not the south, but close), Atlanta and, a week later, Los Angeles where coincidentally my friend Annabelle had newly acquired someone else's book on Southern cooking and wanted us to cook from it while there. I came home from all that travelling inspired, and hungrily opened Hugh's book.

For those of you who can, like me, sit down and read a cookbook like a novel, this is a very good read and it's distinctly Hugh. Readers of his blog will recognize his wit, both in the way he tells his own story and the instructions in his recipes. As he admits, the recipes are geared toward the home cook but to my eye that's in the recipes chosen and not an absence of flavor complexity or sophistication in the dishes themselves. Acquiring some southern comfort hasn't left his French training behind, but his food capitalizes on Georia's great fresh ingredients with a strong emphasis on acidity and fresh herbs.

The book so captivated me that I invited an all-Canadian guest list down for a five-course "Tour of the South" and included three of the recipes in this book on my menu. The rest of the menu were dishes of my own design, but the immersion process into thinking Southern for a non-Southerner provided by this book was invaluable. For instance, he mentioned ham and somewhere else a browned butter vinaigrette which intrigued me enough to decide on that for a salad course. And since that nutty browned butter is what makes a slice of fried ham so good for breakfast, it made me want to put ham on the plate too so voila a play on the French classic ham and parsley terrine using mustard greens came into existence and I paired a slice with the salad. (The vinaigrette was outSTANDing, even if not cardiologist-approved.) And his mentioning a tomato aspic caused me to make my own version of a tomato aspic from the pink tomato water that leaks out of ripe tomatoes infused with lemon rind and white wine to dice into jewels to garnish the plate with. His recipe for fried okra inspired me to fry whole pods as fritters and use them as a garnish for the roast prime rib cap. And so on.

The spell hasn't worn off yet. This Sunday, in fact, I have five couples coming over with spouses for a Commodore's Ball planning session and dinner. Because the ball this year is going to be Cowboy-themed and held in a renovated chicken coop, what better than to serve them an all-Southern menu with a few more of Hugh's recipes? I'll be serving his maple-baked beans, apple brown betty and bread-and-butter pickles plus collard greens, fried okra, smoked chicken, a non-dairy cabbage slaw, and an olive-and sweet pickle macaroni salad in lieu of the south's ubituitous mac and cheese BBQ side.

It has been a long time since a cookbook dominated my thought processes the way this one has, and I highly reccomend it.
My wine shopping and I have never had a problem. Just a perpetual race between the bankruptcy court and Hell.--Rogov
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Re: REVIEW: Hugh Acheson's "A New Turn in the South"

Postby Robert Reynolds » Thu May 31, 2012 6:33 pm

Sounds interesting, Jenise. I'll hunt it up next trip to BN, if only to see his take on cornbread. If there is sugar in it, then I might as well pass, as he would have lost all credibility to me. Funny he has ended up in Athens. I lived there for two years while at University of Georgia. I'm sure the town has changed a lot in the 32 years since I graduated there. Certainly the dining highlight for my meager student's budget was bbq. Does Hugh tackle that?
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Re: REVIEW: Hugh Acheson's "A New Turn in the South"

Postby Jenise » Fri Jun 01, 2012 2:32 am

I quote him: "Cornbread should not have sugar in it. That's cake."

:)

Re BBQ, he doesn't get into BBQ here. This book is more everything-but, but all good.
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Re: REVIEW: Hugh Acheson's "A New Turn in the South"

Postby Robert Reynolds » Fri Jun 01, 2012 10:03 am

Jenise wrote:I quote him: "Cornbread should not have sugar in it. That's cake."

True words of wisdom. :) Now, if I can just get that point through to these Okies, Gail included.
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Re: REVIEW: Hugh Acheson's "A New Turn in the South"

Postby Carrie L. » Fri Jun 01, 2012 12:42 pm

Oh Jenise, so happy to see your review here. Didn't even realize he had a book. Ordering from Amazon right now. Wish I could get it in time for our RV trip across America (again, yawn). Leaving at 7am tomorrow...
Thanks for the post!
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Re: REVIEW: Hugh Acheson's "A New Turn in the South"

Postby Jenise » Fri Jun 01, 2012 1:15 pm

Carrie L. wrote:Oh Jenise, so happy to see your review here. Didn't even realize he had a book. Ordering from Amazon right now. Wish I could get it in time for our RV trip across America (again, yawn). Leaving at 7am tomorrow...
Thanks for the post!


You'll love this book; it's very much my style of cooking, and probably yours too.
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Re: REVIEW: Hugh Acheson's "A New Turn in the South"

Postby Carrie L. » Fri Jun 08, 2012 8:37 am

Jenise wrote:
Carrie L. wrote:Oh Jenise, so happy to see your review here. Didn't even realize he had a book. Ordering from Amazon right now. Wish I could get it in time for our RV trip across America (again, yawn). Leaving at 7am tomorrow...
Thanks for the post!


You'll love this book; it's very much my style of cooking, and probably yours too.


I'm home! I'm home! The book is here. Can't wait to finish unloading the RV so I can sit down and enjoy it. I've just paged through it though and was struck by the Watermelon Salad wth Feta, Arugula and Serrano Chile Vinaigrette. Oooh, I can't wait. This is going to be good.
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Re: REVIEW: Hugh Acheson's "A New Turn in the South"

Postby Jenise » Fri Jun 08, 2012 11:59 am

Carrie L. wrote:
Jenise wrote:
Carrie L. wrote:Oh Jenise, so happy to see your review here. Didn't even realize he had a book. Ordering from Amazon right now. Wish I could get it in time for our RV trip across America (again, yawn). Leaving at 7am tomorrow...
Thanks for the post!


You'll love this book; it's very much my style of cooking, and probably yours too.


I'm home! I'm home! The book is here. Can't wait to finish unloading the RV so I can sit down and enjoy it. I've just paged through it though and was struck by the Watermelon Salad wth Feta, Arugula and Serrano Chile Vinaigrette. Oooh, I can't wait. This is going to be good.


The picture of that Watermelon salad is gorgeous, isn't it? Try the browned butter vinaigrette on a salad of soft lettuces--it's fantastic. I also just made a batch of his bread and butter pickles. Nothing earth shattering there, except to me who has been looking for years to recreate the bread and butter pickles we used to get when I was a kid in an assortment of Knotts Berry Farm jams and stuff we'd get from one of dad's clients. Hugh's recipe gets there--it's the fenugreek that's been missing all this time.
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Re: REVIEW: Hugh Acheson's "A New Turn in the South"

Postby Christina Georgina » Fri Jun 08, 2012 12:41 pm

Inspirational. That is one of the reasons an excellent reinterpretation of a classic is so delightful. It makes you reflect on the old and understand it better. The freedom of creativity is invigorating. When it has to do with food it involves all parts of the brain, all senses. Nice report
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Re: REVIEW: Hugh Acheson's "A New Turn in the South"

Postby Jo Ann Henderson » Fri Jun 08, 2012 1:56 pm

Robert Reynolds wrote:
Jenise wrote:I quote him: "Cornbread should not have sugar in it. That's cake."

True words of wisdom. :) Now, if I can just get that point through to these Okies, Gail included.

1 Tbsp sugar in 4C batter, does not a cake make! And, has been my sentiment on like issues on other occasions, people should stop telling other people how to cook food they are not invited to eat. As a child of the south, with a Cherokee great-grandfather born on a reservation in Louisiana, we have family who make cornbread both with and without a spoonful of sugar -- (just like some add a little bacon dripping to lighten the texture of the batter and others prefer the denser bread without the addition of fat) and each recipe is equally legitimate and authentic. I think my heritage trumps that of a Canadian and an Okie on the matter of corn.
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Re: REVIEW: Hugh Acheson's "A New Turn in the South"

Postby Jenise » Fri Jun 08, 2012 3:35 pm

Jo Ann Henderson wrote:1 Tbsp sugar in 4C batter, does not a cake make!


No, it sure doesn't. I'm with you, I like that little bit of sugar, it can make something taste balanced without tasting sweet. But I'm sure the examples the Canuck and the Okie were talking about were the truly sweet cornbread that Marie Callendar's, I am guessing it was, made all the rage for a number of years. That WAS cake.
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Re: REVIEW: Hugh Acheson's "A New Turn in the South"

Postby Jo Ann Henderson » Fri Jun 08, 2012 10:31 pm

Jenise wrote:
Jo Ann Henderson wrote:1 Tbsp sugar in 4C batter, does not a cake make!


No, it sure doesn't. I'm with you, I like that little bit of sugar, it can make something taste balanced without tasting sweet. But I'm sure the examples the Canuck and the Okie were talking about were the truly sweet cornbread that Marie Callendar's, I am guessing it was, made all the rage for a number of years. That WAS cake.

True. I don't like cakey tasting cornbread either. Which is not the same as saying NO SUGAR IN CORNBREAD!
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Re: REVIEW: Hugh Acheson's "A New Turn in the South"

Postby Robert Reynolds » Sat Jun 09, 2012 12:11 am

Jo Ann, I'm sorry, but sugar in cornbread is just not done where I'm from in North Georgia. And my Southern roots go back at least as early as 1700 (Pierre Chastain, his 2 brothers, wife and children were French Huegegots who landed on VA in that year, and not counting my own Cherokee ancestor). If a diner in my hometown sugared their cornbread, they would be laughed out of town. Cheddar cheese, jalepenos, even corn kernels are ok, but not sugar. And this is all in fun, any :wink: way.
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Re: REVIEW: Hugh Acheson's "A New Turn in the South"

Postby Jo Ann Henderson » Sat Jun 09, 2012 5:32 pm

No sugar, but cheddar cheese, which is neither French nor NA! Huh! And, oh yeah, I got some of that French too, from granddaddy Alexon Tisino, on my daddy side.
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Re: REVIEW: Hugh Acheson's "A New Turn in the South"

Postby Hoke » Sat Jun 09, 2012 6:00 pm

Yeah, Marie Callender has a lot to answer for. Not just for cornbread either.

On the other hand, and this may be anathema to those who adamantly campaing against sugar in cornbread, but some of those Cal-Mex restaurant chains out there? The sweet/spicy corn mush they give you on the side to enhance a dish with the standard rice and beans??? That stuff is a sinful pleasure; you hate liking it, but boy hidey it's tasty!

I agree with Robert and Jo Ann! (How's that for taking sides?) Coming from Georgia, my standard was no sugar in cornbread, period. But coming from further south in Georgia, that put me into proximity of several different subculltures and cuisines that saw no problem with mixing whatever they thought tasted goo in cornbread. No telling what the Geechees and the Creoles and the Cajuns and Cherokee/Creeks would put in their food. But it sure tasted good.

I eat it all. Sometimes I even call it polenta when I eat it.

I figure a recipe should be just a starting point anyway.
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Re: REVIEW: Hugh Acheson's "A New Turn in the South"

Postby Jo Ann Henderson » Sat Jun 09, 2012 10:31 pm

I agree, Hoke. I put all kinds of stuff in my cornbread (jalapenos and coconut, cracklings, whole kernal and cream corn, onions and garlic) and the list goes on. No matter what the optional ingredients, if its focal ingredient is cornmeal, it's cornbread. I just think people should consider not telling other people how to classify their food. It is a particular irritant for me. That's all!
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Re: REVIEW: Hugh Acheson's "A New Turn in the South"

Postby Carrie L. » Sat Jun 09, 2012 10:42 pm

Jenise, I love the writing style of the book. It's just as you said...his personality really shines through. I am up to the fried Okra salad, reading every word, and already made the Pimento Cheese spread as a little nibble before Len's birthday dinner tonight of surf and turf. The spread is a delicious recipe. He's also inspired my use of sauteed leeks in our sauteed spinach side-dish tonight. Really nice. I'm going to start using leeks more frequently.
Enjoying the read...........................Thanks again for the review. I never would have known.
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Re: REVIEW: Hugh Acheson's "A New Turn in the South"

Postby Jenise » Sun Jun 10, 2012 3:06 pm

Jo Ann Henderson wrote:I agree, Hoke. I put all kinds of stuff in my cornbread (jalapenos and coconut, cracklings, whole kernal and cream corn, onions and garlic) and the list goes on. No matter what the optional ingredients, if its focal ingredient is cornmeal, it's cornbread. I just think people should consider not telling other people how to classify their food. It is a particular irritant for me. That's all!


Coconut? Oh dear god, that sounds good. Must try it--thanks!
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Re: REVIEW: Hugh Acheson's "A New Turn in the South"

Postby Jenise » Sun Jun 10, 2012 3:11 pm

Carrie L. wrote:Jenise, I love the writing style of the book. It's just as you said...his personality really shines through. I am up to the fried Okra salad, reading every word, and already made the Pimento Cheese spread as a little nibble before Len's birthday dinner tonight of surf and turf. The spread is a delicious recipe. He's also inspired my use of sauteed leeks in our sauteed spinach side-dish tonight. Really nice. I'm going to start using leeks more frequently.
Enjoying the read...........................Thanks again for the review. I never would have known.


I'm so happy you're loving that book, I was sure you would. And, reading his Pimento Cheese spread recipe made Pimento Cheese sound good to me for the first time in my life. I'm not surprised it's a winner! We had a little Hugh last night, too; I turned what was left of his baked beans from last weekend into a bean soup. I served it as a second course after a fresh tomato and herb salad and paired both with a good maturing Chateneuf du Pape and a basket of garlic bread. All great, but that wine with that maple-y, herb-y bean soup? It was the best wine and bean soup pairing ever.
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Re: REVIEW: Hugh Acheson's "A New Turn in the South"

Postby Carl Eppig » Sun Jun 10, 2012 3:53 pm

I'm not Southener but I married one. If it's for dinner we use finely groung white cornmeal and no sugar; and for breakfast we use yellow corn meal with sugar and sometimes blueberries.
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Re: REVIEW: Hugh Acheson's "A New Turn in the South"

Postby Jenise » Sun Jun 10, 2012 4:00 pm

Carl Eppig wrote:I'm not Southener but I married one. If it's for dinner we use finely groung white cornmeal and no sugar; and for breakfast we use yellow corn meal with sugar and sometimes blueberries.


I like the differentiation, Carl: sweet for breakfast but not for dinner. Makes a lot of sense!
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